Over the years, there have been plenty of words to describe the raucous fans at Milan Puskar Stadium. In the new normal of 2020, however, a new term has emerged to describe the prospect of those same crowds, and it’s not as endearing: “superspreader.”
Large crowds — like those in stadiums and arenas — have been found to be one of the most dangerous areas in terms of COVID-19 transmission. That’s why, for the first time since its opening, Milan Puskar Stadium will be empty.
“One of the things that we’re really worried about is that big football games are what we would call potentially superspreader events….” said Dr. Clay Marsh, the Vice President & Executive Dean for Health Sciences at WVU. “Even if you don’t let as many people into the stadium — because we certainly could physically distance people in a stadium that holds 65,000 people — the problem is, though, a lot of people might show up at the game to tailgate, to hang out together.”
Marsh has found that people are “quite industrious and ingenious” about getting together — despite the pandemic. For that reason, officials are doing their best to prevent any gatherings around the stadium.
“That could actually start a superspreader event, which could end up resulting in no more football, no more University, and so that’s what we’re really worried about,” Dr. Marsh added.
One saving grace is the layout of the stadium itself. With the return of sports like Major League Baseball and the PGA Tour, television broadcasts have shown fans finding ways to catch a glimpse of the action with their naked eye — whether it’s sanctioned or not.
Dean of Students Corey Farris says that since that’s not really possible at Milan Puskar Stadium, that is itself a deterrent to fans.
“I think those true fanatic fans are going to want to be in front of a TV set some place watching the game, not outside the stadium where there’s not a roar of a crowd or they can’t see anything,” he explained. “So I think that part’s going to be pretty easy.”
Deterrence won’t be the University’s only strategy, however. Farris says WVU is coming up with ways to bring the fan experience home to make gameday fun — even if it means missing a weekend at the Blue Lot.
“That will be our challenge, then, to say, ‘We’re all fans, we can’t be in the stadium, but we’ll create the stadium in our living rooms, in our basements, or outside watching the game together,” Farris said.
Still, the University has left open the possibility of allowing spectators down the road — but a decision on that likely won’t come for weeks.
Fans or no fans, Marsh is a fan of the Big 12’s decision to go ahead and play football this season. He invokes the book “Antifragile” by Nassem Taleb (which Marsh calls “the smartest book I’ve ever read”), which discusses the concept of “optionality.” Essentially, that boils down to keeping one’s options open in the event of an unforeseen or unknown circumstances in order to make the best decision.
“For me, as long as we’re watching really carefully with a very conservative eye and we’re keeping our options open, I think that’s the right situation,” Marsh said.